My Sunday downtown yoga class was all done. Bending down to wear my boots before I hit the outside freezing -38 with windchill temperature, when a participant stops me with a smile “Can I talk with you” she asked. “Sure, let’s leave the studio for the next class. Come on over to the sitting lounge and we can chat”, I said.
Even before we could seat ourselves, she broke into an agitated plea “I have these non-stop thoughts and can’t go to sleep. I can’t even find words to speak to you now. These thoughts are just taking over my life. I can’t focus. Can you please teach me meditation”. Another participant had followed us, keen with a question on her mind. The other participant nodded and agreed, “I have insomnia, I wake up at 3 am and then can’t go to sleep till 6, by then its time to get ready for work. I’m in for meditation class too” she said.
As I observed these participants, I could already see how much the yoga physical practice benefited them. They both experienced feeling alive and vibrant after class. But class was just once a week and clearly they needed more help to get their thoughts in balance.
This brings me to the topic of this blog
Yoga is not a religion… its a science.
I get asked this all the time, oh you grew up in india, its your culture, that’s why you are drawn to yoga. You can read and write Sanskrit, you understand the yogic scriptures and that’s why its easy for you to practice and teach. as you are born in a hindu household and especially because you were born and raised in a Brahmin family, these things come easy to you. Its all your religion.
Yes, I was fortunate to be born and raised in a Hindu Brahmin family, where a lot of importance is given to knowledge, culture, and the arts. But please before you accuse me of being good at yoga because of all of the above, do me a favor. Go to India. See for yourself how many people practice yoga and its teachings. It really has nothing to do with place of birth. I also see how some people in the western world try to fool unsuspecting people by learning a few words of Sanskrit and all of sudden they get treated as yogis. Be careful and be wary of fakes. Be careful of who you trust on the yoga practice…I’ve been duped and will share that story another time. A sincere yoga practitioner will truly have no need to keep a bhagavad gita open in front of him/her & quote random pieces to impress others.
Yoga is not a religious practice.
Yoga is non denominational. Anyone, of any faith, any belief system, any country of origin can practice yoga.. Yes, it originated from India, but that does not make it a religious practice. Its like saying phones are the property of americans since an American invented it. Or homeopathy can only be done by a german practitioner since it was invented by Germans. It is completely free of religion and nuances. In my yoga class, I freely draw upon Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu teachings to name a few. Yogic masters are many and they cross the borders of religion.
Some of the most amazing yogis I have had the fortune to meet. Are just the simplest most down-to-earth folk, who don’t need to impress with knowledge of the Vedas.. Like the boatman Ganesha who picks us up from the docks in a boat to take us to the Sivananda retreat. He does his work simply, consistently and with no sign of large ego. Or the gateman at the Eastern townships yoga retreat in Canada who shovels snow in the bitter cold of Quebec winter with a smile, so that everyone who enters has a clean passage way. Or at my workplace our distribution colleague Mr. Khan who does his daily work with so much grace and always with a smile. Or my favorite again at the Bahamas ashram, Bahamian staff, Gale who entered the ladies bathroom on her shift, looked around at the load of crap, sighed, made a thanks to god for giving her this day and went about her duty.
I am attracted to yoga for its practical body work I can apply to my daily life
In the past 2 weeks I have had several people walk into class referred by their physiotherapist, recovering from neck injuries, whiplash from car accidents, scoliosis, sciatica pain to name a few. And for those I create a practice with a physical and mental slant. At the end of last week’s class a participant told me how hard the class was. And it has to be physically exacting sometimes, so that the mind has no option, no choice but to shut down and focus on the body!!
Then there are others whose physical form is ok but they come to yoga seeking mental peace. Like my lovely participant who suffers from insomnia and extremely busy thoughts that are taking over her life..she is young, in her late 20s maybe early 30’s, smart, fit, successful, wise and insightful. She is already facing up to life’s truth. Chattering thoughts that stop her from being effective, either at work or at her home. There are still others who approach yoga from a purely physical aesthetic. Clearly yoga is a very practical science, that lets you either take care of your mind or body or bring both in balance and equilibrium.
My attraction to yoga is mainly, fundamentally, primarily because of the following:
The scientific enquiry that yoga practice allows me is why I love YOGA the most.
- With my yoga practice, I am able to question myself, my actions, rely on my intuition that grows stronger with every practice. Often times during meditation I get clear insights into what I need to do. Sometimes I feel like stopping & writing down these amazing insights. note to self, keep pen & paper handy before meditating :)
- With my yoga practice, I am able to lead a gentle life, being gentle with myself, my friends, my relationships, and my community, without having to resort to untruths and without having to manipulate others with lies.
- With my yoga practice I am able to accept myself and my so called flaws without judgement. including my not so perfect profile or my stomach fat :) I am then able to extend that light & joyful, non-judgmental attitude towards others accepting them as they are.
- With my yoga practice I am able to nourish myself with freshly prepared wholesome and delicious foods, and I am able to nourish others by serving them the same food. Did I mention my love affair with tasty, healthy & pretty looking food :)
- With my yoga practice, I am able to laugh at myself when my mind takes me on these crazy whirlwind trips !!
- With my yoga practice I am able to nurture myself and fill myself with self-love and in turn able to spread it around and nurture others who are in need, sometimes by simply listening to them, other times by actively helping out in some way.
- Through my yoga practice I have been able to reverse my pre-diabetic blood sugar count, simply by becoming more conscious of different foods and their action on my body.
- Most of all through my yoga practice I am able to be completely self-expressed, through my increased intuition I am able to find the skills I am best at, and use those in community and the work I do.
I’m sure by now you would agree that yoga is not religion, but very very practical, rational, scientific, valuable, no nonsense real-life-skills stuff.
All of these are amazing by products of yoga
The biggest benefit, the most practical and the most precious benefit is the balance yoga brings about in the mind. Its able to still my mind, so I can be completely present in the moment. Focused on the task at hand, focused on the person who I am with in the moment. Its not easy and I haven’t achieved mastery yet. But again yoga is not a competition and there is no end, it’s the process of the practice, the scientific enquiry on the nature of the mind.
By now you’ll probably agree that yoga is scientific and rational not religious. So how can you now tap into that major reservoir of the mind? And make a request to the mind to stay calm? Why through yoga of course followed by meditation. That’s what I like to share in my yoga class, a strong and steady physical practice with options that anyone, any age can do..followed by guided meditation ending in complete relaxation, mind, body & soul all tuned up ready to hit another work week!
Here then is a tip to regain mastery over the mind. A video I made a while ago, under 10 minutes. Go on, try it out. Even though I suggest seated posture, you can easily practice this meditation. while you are in bed all tucked in. and allow your mind to get still so that you can get the restful sleep you deserve.